Now I Rise by Kiersten White YA fantasy book reviewsNow I Rise by Kiersten White YA fantasy book reviewsNow I Rise by Kiersten White

And I Darken bought us some of the best characters YA has seen in a long time: Lada Dracul, the fearsome terror of a little girl, and her gentle brother Radu. Defying stereotypes of gender, race and religion, as well as the predictable tropes of the genre itself, And I Darken was a FanLit fave of last year. Lada and Radu make their return in the follow-up, Now I Rise (2017), but can the sequel live up to its dazzling predecessor?

Lada ended And I Darken forging out towards Wallachia with her loyal Janissaries, having rejected the new sultan Mehmed’s offer to stay with him, whilst Radu chose to remain. The messy love triangle — Radu’s unrequited love for Mehmed, and Lada and Mehmed’s impossible affair — finally wrought the trio apart, destroying the once inseparable bonds of three children that grew up together.

Radu chose to stay with Mehmed, yet far from having the sultan to himself, he has been axed from his circle of advisors and must instead linger on the outskirts of the royal court. Mehmed does not want people growing suspicious of his closeness with Radu, he argues, and this way, they can build an army against Constantinople in secret, without Mehmed’s enemies catching wind of their plans. Radu is more important to him than ever, Mehmed promises. But for Radu, it’s difficult to see how being held at arm’s length shows his importance. Especially when Mehmed cannot even look him in the eyes.

Meanwhile Lada is forging an increasingly bloody trail towards Wallachia. Where her brother would compromise, persuade, and sweet-talk, Lada knows only her sword. She is hilariously prickly as ever, but something has been lost in this new ruthlessness. One of the most endearing things about her in And I Darken was her surprising ability to do good even in the midst of her ferocity, but this nuance is lost in Now I Rise. Whilst it is, of course, an inevitable part of her character growth, a character with so little sympathy left for them makes for much less compulsive reading.

And I Darken Series by Kiersten WhiteRadu is his same uncertain self, but he too has lost some of the pivotal characteristics that made him so endearing in And I Darken. It is not his unwavering love for Mehmed which makes him frustrating, but his constant navel-gazing. Huge, introspective chunks of the story explore his regrets and his indecision, and whilst this again shapes his character, it also takes some wind out of the plot’s sails and there are certainly parts of the story that could’ve ramped up the pace.

Quips aside, the book’s supporting cast were a delight. The wily and resourceful Nazira is constantly prodding Radu into action when he gets too mopey; Cyprian, the nephew of Constantine, provides a new love-interest for Radu, and here Kiersten White has got the balance just right. You’ll find none of the usual YA tropes here: no insta-love or eye-rollingly obvious hints at a relationship. Instead Radu and Cyprian must adhere to the religious and social pressures that dictate same-sex love is wrong. It’s a subplot both moving and compelling.

And I Darken was always going to be a tough act to follow. With Lada, Radu and Mehmed spread to the winds, we lose the dynamics of the trio together which made the series opener such a pleasure to read. Nonetheless, our favourite characters still cause all the mayhem and havoc they’ve always done in Now I Rise, and whilst it may feel like a bit of a stepping-stone in the trilogy, it still far outshines any other contenders in the genre.

Published June 27, 2017. The highly anticipated, mind-blowing sequel to Kiersten White’s New York Times bestseller, AND I DARKEN—the series that reads like HBO’s Game of Thrones . . . if it were set in the Ottoman Empire. Fans of Victoria Aveyard’s THE RED QUEEN and Sabaa Tahir’s A TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT won’t want to miss this riveting and gorgeously written novel—the second in the And I Darken series. Lada Dracul has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself. After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her. What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?


  • Ray McKenzie

    RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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